By: Dr Anne
Nipples are the most sensitive regions of the woman’s breasts. We all know about how erogenous these regions are, and the important part they play in the foreplay before sexual intercourse. However these nipples are actually provided by nature for the purpose of breastfeeding. This happens shortly after pregnancy, when the nipples begin to secrete the milk that is produced in the milk ducts within the breasts.
Babies have a natural talent to suckle at the mother’s nipples. They do so by pushing the nipples with the palate of their mouths. For some women, especially who are breastfeeding their babies for the first few times, this could be a very painful process. Babies could sometimes clamp the nipples very hard causing the nipples to become sore and cracked.
Milk let-down is a naturally occurring phenomenon during lactation. When the baby suckles at the nipples, then the milk is drawn into the baby’s mouth through them. As a result, more milk runs towards the nipple area from the milk ducts situated within the breasts. For most women, this process occurs quite normally. But if there is a problem with the milk let-down process, then the baby would need to suckle harder at the nipple in order to draw milk. This would cause pain in the nipples. Such difficulty for the baby to draw out milk could also occur if the woman has inverted nipples, i.e. nipples which point inwards.
Women who are breastfeeding for their first baby would mostly not know the correct breastfeeding technique. They may not be holding the baby properly, due to which the baby would have to press at the nipples in order to get at them. Wrong breastfeeding techniques are the prime causes of women having sore and cracked nipples. Wrong breastfeeding techniques could include not keeping a support under the baby (due to which the baby becomes uncomfortable in its position and wriggles a lot), sitting in an incorrect posture while feeding the baby, pulling the baby away from the nipple quite suddenly, etc.
Sometimes the fault is with the baby itself. There is a congenital condition known as ankyloglossia, which is commonly called as tongue-tie. Babies with this condition have tight frenulums (this is the membrane attaching the tongue to the base of the mouth). Such babies would find it very hard to suckle at the nipples as their tongue movement is highly restricted.
If you have sore and cracked nipples, then you would need to stop giving the baby that breast for feeding for a while and meet your doctor urgently. If the baby continues to feed on that breast, then the pain would also continue, eventually leading to bleeding from the baby. A bleeding nipple could be very dangerous to the baby if it is fed on it. Almost all cases of sore and cracked nipples occur when the woman is breastfeeding a baby. But if you are getting sore and cracked nipples even though you are not breastfeeding, then it could be some very serious problem with the breast, including breast cancer. You must rush to the doctor to seek medical attention.
Sore nipples caused by poor breastfeeding techniques can be easily treated by simply getting more educated on the right method to breastfeed. It is best to sit in a cross-legged position on a bed if you are finding holding the baby during breastfeeding uncomfortable. Sitting on a chair could compound the pain in the nipples. It is also advisable to keep the baby in your lap on some support. You can use a pillow on your lap and keep the baby on it. This way the baby will be comfortable and would not need to suckle hard at the nipples. Also do not encourage the baby to suckle on the same breast for a long time. Take turns with both the breasts.
If you have any problems with letting down the milk properly, then do not let the baby suckle much on it without seeking medical help first. The doctor could provide some supplements in order to increase the amount of milk produced in the breasts. One such commonly prescribed supplement is the supplement containing Asparagus racemosa. There are also counselors in all maternity hospitals who could help you in learning the correct method to breastfeed the baby so that it would not need to pull hard at the nipples.
Women having inverted nipples would also need to talk to the gynecologist before the child is born. There could be methods to correct this problem with the nipples.
Some preparation before the breastfeeding could be very helpful in preventing sore and cracked nipples. If the breast is too engorged, then try letting out some of the milk using a pump, or simply by squeezing by hand. This will loosen the pressure in the breast a little. Also, removing a little milk before the breastfeeding would allow the milk to flow naturally when the baby begins to suckle. Using some creams like lanolin could reduce the pain during feeding, but you would need to ask the doctor whether they would be safe for the baby.